Namdaemun Sestina

Seoul, South Korea

Across from the waxed pig heads,
mothers and daughters gather at carts
loaded with assorted clothes.
Elbows deep, they churn up colours
while old ladies, rapped in fabric, sit on stools,
poised above red clay pots filled

with kimchi and large silver bowls filled
with silver minnows. Above our heads
UN flags hang from strings. Below, on stools
booth owners gather by music carts.
Cigarettes dangle and pop music colours
the sun swinging amid bars of designer clothes.

I am walking , and men are shouting and waving clothes
above their wagon loads, bending their tongues to the air filled
and turning with spice and meat and colours.
The sky turns the voices about our heads,
under the shoes of men stomping on carts,
and through the fabric of ladies poised on stools.

I walk, and though the men might rest on stools,
drinking deep the voice that fills their clothes,
these streets draw sky like the wheels of carts.
I breath, and my life is drawn about a lake filled
with twilight. We are the stars forming about our heads.
Poised in a tin boat, our whispers draw the colours

of skin as we shed our clothes submerge the colours
into the fabric of these ladies, poised on stools
breathing the sleep of children, whose heads
are cradled in the hands of fathers haggling over clothes.
Their dreams gathering the voice of memories filled
with men who chant from clothing carts,

music that crackles from music carts
and all the spice and meat and sewage and colours
turning the air about me into a single breath filled
with the stillness of the men resting on stools.
Sweat is soaked into the fabric of their clothes
an entire street is drawn up into their heads.

In a food tent, there are some empty stools.
Under the canopy, I can watch the colours
submerge into a lake of twilight, drifting above our heads.


As appeared in Freefall, Vol. XVI No. 2, 2006.